Shin Hae Chul (신해철, 1968-2014) was a versatile and popular rock musician who has written and performed numerous songs as a solo artist as well as with such bands of his as Next. He was surely a one-of-a-kind artist who had a keen interest in social issues apart from his music. First and foremost a rock musician, he also dabbled in many other mainstream and experimental genres of music. Writing all the lyrics and music himself, he was an energetic musician constantly endeavoring to one-up himself, always willing to lend a hand as a mentor or as a friend to peer artists and proteges, and ready to speak out about various political and social matters. To the dismay of his fans, he fell victim to a medical malpractice and died in October, 2014.
그저 걷고 있는 거지
I Am Just Walking
나에게 쓰는 편지
A Letter to Myself
Shin Hae Chul debuted in 1988 through a popular college music contest. Once he gained a foothold in the pop industry, he worked voraciously, writing, producing, and performing a great number of songs, not to mention organizing new bands and gigs, most notably Next (넥스트). His songs were often thoughtful and introspective, a tireless quest to discover one’s inner self and to take on the challenges of life. In short, he always pressed on existential matters. This was a notable departure from pop music’s usual subject of love and parting. Such earnest, conscientious stance on life, combined with the faithful and scandal-free persona of a good father and husband as well as a reliable friend to fellow musicians, earned him the rare reputation of a go to guy in the show business. It made his unexpected death in 2014 all the more heartbreaking for so many people both in and out of the music industry.
I Am Just Walking (그저 걷고 있는 거지) is a deeply introspective song from his 1995 project of Jungle Story soundtrack, a film featuring then newcomer Yoon Do Hyeon (윤도현). The song is a rather peculiar blend of quietly moving string instruments and traditional rock guitar accompanying an existential contemplation as to the narrator’s journey through life. Looking back on his past, he observes how he always strove to attain his elusive goals, which he now apparently looks on differently. He sees there is more to life than those easily definable goals, that he has to set his eye higher on greater things as he goes further on life’s road, as he tastes disillusionment with earlier rosy expectations. Above all, he realizes that what matters is that he is still walking. He seems to say that the true meaning of life is in the act of giving one’s best effort while being true to himself, his family and friends. He recites the short yet inspirational lyrics in barely audible whispers, creating a profoundly moving atmosphere almost like a meditative contemplation. It is a unique song in this single aspect alone, and it sounds especially poignant now in the aftermath of the tragedy that befell him.
A Letter To Myself (나에게 쓰는 편지) is another number in the same theme of a quest for the ultimate truth in life. Released in 1991 on his second album, it is a quintessential Shin Hae Chul song featuring his familiar innocent sounding voice. It brims with earnest enthusiasm of a wholesome youth as he faces life head on vowing not to be swept by the many formidable inhuman forces in the word. For the next two decades, he indeed lived heeding his own words he professed in this song and did not lose sight of the vows he made early on. His earnest and valiant journey is borne out by the emotional outpourings and eulogies by fellow artists after his death.
The unfortunate accident is even more poignant and heartbreaking when juxtaposed with the life affirming messages in his songs. It was a truly sad loss. The consolation may be that he indeed lived his short life to the full. Rest in peace, Shin Hae Chul.